Video of the execution of an unarmed Ukrainian soldier, recorded on a mobile phone by one of the Russian invaders, shocked all Ukrainians in early March. The explicit footage of the execution sparked ethical debates regarding the deceased. Journalism rules were disregarded as the video went viral on social media.
Some media outlets were really irresponsible. The identity of the murdered person spread rapidly and uncontrollably. Accuracy or the moods of his relatives were not cared for. Some journalists drew attention to similar happenings during the war. Such executions, which are obviously war crimes, have taken place thousands of times. But not all are boldly recorded by the invaders or caught on cell phone cameras by chance.
EXECUTION OF MAKSIM LEVIN
It takes selfless work to document such murders. In March last year, the Russians executed the Ukrainian journalist Maksim Levin. Details of the crime came to light through an investigation by Reporters Without Borders.
Levin’s colleague, journalist Sonya According to Koshkina , before she was shot, her bulletproof vest and helmet with the word “PRESS” on were taken off. Sonya describes the details of the incident as follows: “The Russians were burning Oleksiy Çernışov alive 300 meters away. So Maksim sensed what had happened and what awaited him. We do not know his last words, but I am sure that he closed his eyes with honour. Maybe he shouted “Long live Ukraine!” or “Death to enemies!”. I have no doubt because I knew him. He was standing when they shot him. They put a total of three bullets in his head in a controlled manner so that he would definitely not live.”
43 JOURNALISTS IN ONE YEAR
Amid countless videos on social media, Ukrainian journalists are trying to find the truth and inform the world. In the first year of the war in Ukraine, 12 journalists lost their lives. Local organisations say that 43 journalists have died, the discrepancy is due to the inclusion of colleagues who were unable to perform their journalistic duties at the time of their death. But let’s face it, every loss is terrible in any case.
“When the war starts, the first victim of the war is the truth,” journalist Lüdmila Vannik once noted, analysing the coverage of the conflict in Iraq. In the early days of the Russian offensive, Ukrainians were told that we would learn the exact number of casualties after the war.
Meanwhile, the General Staff updated a number of previously existing news bans. Russia has been fighting in Ukraine since 2014, and with the full-scale start of the war it took on special significance. It was forbidden to describe the movements and positions of military units, to show the location of important objects. In April last year, the Criminal Code of Ukraine introduced a request for imprisonment of up to 12 years for such violations. However, censorship remains prohibited in Ukraine according to the Constitution.
Moreover, a year ago the relevant authorities began to grant accreditation to foreign journalists almost without any obstacles. Largely thanks to their success and courage, the whole world has witnessed the terrible picture of what is happening in Ukraine.
MEDIA UNDER OCCUPATION
Hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists remain under occupation in Ukraine. Our partners in professional solidarity around the world urgently provided solar panels, financial aid, journalistic equipment and much more. Journalistic solidarity centres set up by the International and European Federations of Journalists provided legal, psychological, educational and even food assistance. These centres continue to operate. Hundreds of Ukrainian journalists (mostly women) have travelled abroad.
Ukraine’s information space has undergone a fundamental change. The nationwide Telemaraton “One and common news”, which started a year ago, is still running. However, there are three television channels that are outside the Telemaraton and inaccessible to the general audience. Although these channels have a pro-Ukrainian position, they are highly critical of President Zelensky. The positive effect of the joint broadcasts, which were initially intended to unite society, is now being replaced by propaganda. Violations of journalistic standards by the presenters of the one-voice project Telemaraton are increasing every day.
This is of course not helping journalism to progress. Rejections of accreditation applications by foreign media organisations have increased. The new media law is scheduled to come into force on 1 April. The government is pleased, but journalists’ professional organisations are unhappy.
‘DEPENDENT MEDIA’ CONCERN
The main issues of concern for Ukrainian journalists include the political dependence of the regulatory body, the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting (NRTR), the expansion of regulation of print and internet media, and the extension of extrajudicial criminal sanctions.
Today, Ukrainian journalists have become symbols of courage and dedication to their profession. In many respects they set world trends. They have survived a year of war, enduring blockade, occupation, emigration, the destruction of their editorial offices and their country, the loss of colleagues and relatives. But they still need help and continue their work despite the repression inside their country. Journalists report on the crimes of the Russian occupiers and the situation on the war front, expose abuses and corruption, and demand the resignation of senior officials. There is therefore hope that the truth in Ukraine will remain alive after the war, albeit wounded.
Serhiy Shturhetsky, journalist, Chairman of the Committee of the Trade Union of Independent Media of Ukraine. He worked as a lecturer at the National Ostroh and Kyiv-Mohila Academy. Member of the Council for Freedom of Expression and Protection of Journalists under the President of Ukraine.